How can I Wipe My Hard Drive clean before I give my Computer Away?

My friend Karen recently wrote, “A friend is moving out of state, and has some old, old, old equipment.  Is there any use for a pentium computer? What is the best way to dispose of it… and how do you wipe off the hard drive, before doing such a thing?”

Yes, even some very old computers can be reformatted and used  for simple word processing and for Internet browsing. But in this post, I’ll cover how to completely and securely erase your data from the hard drive.

You probably know that “deleting” a file from your hard drive really doesn’t delete it.  Deleting a file will remove the file title from your hard drive (so you won’t see the file title when you “explore” your hard drive), but the file data remains on your disk and in some cases can be recovered by savvy computer technicians.  Likewise, using a hard drive “format” command also does not fully remove your files.  If you keep any medical, business or personal information on your computer, a simple deletion or hard drive format isn’t’ enough to completely remove your data when you dispose of your computer, but it can be done…

Erase Hard Drive

To securely dispose of an accountant’s hard drive a few years ago, we first used one of the secure erase programs listed below, then we used a drill press to physically drill through the drive case and shatter the hard drive platters inside it.  We physically damaged the hard drive because we were protecting financial information for many accounting clients.   Our physical damage to the hard drive was probably unnecessary, but it gave us visual confirmation that the client data was virtually unrecoverable from the hard drive.

A “Secure Erase” function is built into all hard drives since 2001, but you have to use a computer program to access it.   A hard drive’s “Secure Erase” function is recognized by the US Government’s National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) as the same as magnetically erasing a hard drive (degaussing) or physically destroying it.

So, with a hard drive’s “Secure Erase” function available, drilling a hole through a hard drive is certainly overkill for most folks who simply want to make sure that their personal documents, financial information, and family photos won’t be recovered from their old hard drive.   Instead, if you  erase your hard drive using a recommended secure erase program, you can be fairly certain that your data won’t be recovered and you can avoid physical damage of drilling so that your old hard drive can be recycled, reformatted, and safely reused by someone else.

You can pay for commercially available “disk wipe” programs, but the free “secure erase” programs, listed below, can just as well do the job of securely erasing your hard drive by accessing your hard drive’s hidden “Secure Erase” function.

DARIK’S BOOT AND NUKE
http://dban.sourceforge.net/

ACTIVE KILL DISK
http://www.killdisk.com/features.htm

DISK DRIVE SECURE ERASE
http://cmrr.ucsd.edu/people/Hughes/SecureErase.shtml

Wiping older ATA hard drives is fairly easy with these programs.  Wiping clean newer SATA drives may require a few extra steps that are described in each program’s instructions.

In an upcoming post, I’ll write about where you can donate used computers.   When you donate a used computer, it would be helpful if you taped a note to the computer box stating that you’ve securely erased all data from the hard drive.

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